By Robert G. Segel
Nestled unobtrusively just yards from the sun drenched golden sands and gently lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean in the heart of Waikiki sits Battery Randolph; originally built as a first line of defense against an enemy attack by sea and now the home of the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i.
Ring of Steel
From the ocean side, the battery presents a very low profile, looking more like a grass-covered sand dune than the emplacement of the Army’s powerful coastal defense weapons. In 1906 the Taft Board recommended a system of Coast Artillery batteries to protect strategic Pearl Harbor and Honolulu from attack by battleships. The original plan called for six 12-inch rifles, four 6-inch rapid fire rifles and sixteen 12-inch mortars. Construction began in 1909 at the principal locations of Fort Kamehameha, Fort Armstrong, Fort DeRussy and Fort Ruger. The original plan was modified by adding two 3-inch rapid fire batteries, and most importantly, substituting two 14-inch rifles for the DeRussy 12-inch rifles. Fixed batteries were supplemented by harbor mines and mobile guns, providing a ring of steel at both long and close range to repel any potential invader. Infantry, cavalry and field artillery units supported the batteries. By the eve of World War I, the system was essentially complete.
Battery Randolph, located at Ft. DeRussy, was completed in 1911 and is made of steel reinforced concrete up to 12 feet thick; able to withstand a direct hit from a 2,000-pound artillery shell. Mounted on the battery’s two gun decks were 14-inch rifles on Buffington-Crozier “disappearing” carriages that fired a 3/4 ton projectile 14 miles. A marvel of engineering in its day, the carriage was hidden behind a concrete parapet for loading, and then raised to its firing position by dropping a 50-ton lead counterweight. Recoil from the firing pushed the carriage down to the loading position and reset the counterweight. Observation posts at Diamond Head and Tantalus helped direct the battery’s fire for pinpoint accuracy.
During the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December, 1941, the guns remained silent as they were of no use against an aerial attack. At the end of World War II, the giant guns were declared obsolete and cut up and sold for scrap; never having fired a shot in anger or defense. Battery Randolph was then used as a warehouse, and eventually abandoned. In 1969, the Army attempted to knock down the walls of the old Battery Randolph so that a hotel could be built on the site. The steel reinforced, 12-feet thick concrete walls repeatedly defied destruction by the wrecking ball and it was decided to relocate the site of the hotel. In 1976, the site was designated as the home of the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i.
The U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i
The museum preserves the architecture and the story of historic Battery Randolph, and chronicles the military history of Hawai’i from early contact with western civilization through the Vietnam War. Standing on part of the 72 acres which comprise the Armed Forces Recreation Center at Fort DeRussy, the museum occupies 13,500 square feet and contains over 2,000 artifacts and 1,900 photographs.
The main floor of the museum exhibit area is divided into 15 areas: an Introduction Foyer, Theater/Changing Gallery, Hawaiian Warfare, Camp McKinley, Defending an Island, Shell Magazine Replica, Manning the Defenses, Army Aviation Takes Off, The Winds of War, December 8, 1941, Hawai’i on Defense, Hawai’i on Offense, Hawai’i’s Japanese Americans, Korea – 5th Regimental Combat Team Commemoration, and the Vietnam War.
The tour through the museum follows a chronological order beginning with early Hawaiian warfare and the introduction of western military technology. King Kamehameha’s use of western weapons and advisors helped consolidate the Hawaiian Islands. On August 12, 1898, the United States ratified the treaty of annexation, and in 1900 the Organic Act proclaimed Hawai’i as a territory. Four days after annexation, the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived by ship in Honolulu and began fortifying the islands by building Camp McKinley in Kapi’olani Park.
In each historical era gallery, displays of weapons, graphics, and artifacts tell the story of the military importance of Hawai’i. While the display of weaponry is not overwhelming, there is an excellent selection of weapons ranging from the early Brown Bess rifles to modern weaponry through the Vietnam era that fully convey their meaning and importance in the context of Hawai’i’s military history
Gallery of Heroes
On the second floor of the museum is the Gallery of Heroes. This small, cool and quiet gallery was developed in 1980 by Major General Herbert Wolff to honor Hawai’i’s recipients of the nation’s two highest awards of valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, or its equivalents, the Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross.
In the wall facing the mountains is a striking stained glass backdrop replica of the Medal of Honor. Originally, six recipients were placed on Koa pedestals in a semicircle, and in January 2001, twelve more were added, with their citations on the wall behind them. A citation was added in 2006 for Captain Humbert “Rocky” Versace, who died as a POW in 1966. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2002.
Across the way in another room, a curved lighted display currently honors 41 of Hawai’i’s residents who have received the Distinguished Service Cross or the Navy and Air Force Cross.
Another small room on the second floor houses the Corps of Engineers Regional Visitor Center.
Upper Deck Gun Battery
The second floor also leads the way to the two solid concrete gun mounts that make up Battery Randolph. Though the old 14-inch rifles on Buffington-Crozier “disappearing” carriages are long since gone, two 7-inch naval guns from the battleship USS New Hampshire have been mounted in their place, their mute barrels pointing through the palm trees over the sands of Waikiki “protecting” the vacationer’s paradise from an attack by sea.
Also on display on the roof is a “G” model U.S. Army AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter that was used extensively during the Vietnam War.
The U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i is authorized and certified by the Commanding General, U.S. Army Center of Military History. The Museum is operated by the U.S. Army Garrison, Hawai’i, and serves both the military and civilian community. Battery Randolph and the Museum are located at the intersection of Kalia and Saratoga Roads. Admission is free, although donations are welcome to support museum development. Validated parking is available in Fort DeRussy’s parking lot and garage. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Monday). Allow 60 to 90 minutes for the complete tour. It is air conditioned with handicap facilities and an elevator (as well as stairs) is provided for access to the second floor where the Gallery of Heroes and the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center are situated as well as access to the gun deck and helicopter display.
The U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i is a wonderful and eloquent visit, well worth your time away from tanning yourself on the beach. Over 100,000 visitors tour the museum every year, making it one of the most frequently visited U.S. Army Museums in the world. The displays are concise but meaningful, well thought out and educational. Hawai’i’s military history is well presented in the historic setting of the massive Battery Randolph at Fort DeRussy.
Hawai’i Army Museum Society
Chartered in 1976 as a non-profit corporation, the Hawai’i Army Museum Society’s (HAMS) sole mission is to support the development of the U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i and help fund exhibit expansion and creation, and other improvements at the museum. The Society is membership-based and besides a number of fund-raising events, operates the Gift Shop in the Museum lobby selling military-related merchandise with the Museum benefiting from 25% of net profits.
U.S. Army Museum of Hawai’i
Battery Randolph, Ft. DeRussy
U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii
Directorate of Morale, Welfare and Recreation
Stop 319, U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii
Fort Shafter, HI 96858-5000
Phone: (808) 438-2821
Fax: (808) 438-2819
Historical Inquires: (808) 438-2822
Group Guided Tours: (808) 438-2825
Website: Go to 25idl.army.mil and scroll to: U.S. Army Museum Hawaii
Hawai’i Army Museum Society
P.O. Box 8064
Honolulu, HI 96830-0065
Phone: (808) 955-9552
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N1 (October 2008)|
and was posted online on August 10, 2012